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If you are an attorney trying to weigh the importance of law firm SEO for business development, you need to know one key fact: 96% of consumers use a search engine when looking for legal advice, according to a Google Consumer Survey.

Most lawyers actively engaged in digital marketing know how critical law firm SEO is for generating and converting leads. Most hire SEO companies; some have in-house staff. As critical as SEO is to business development, a vast majority of attorneys do not know the basic concepts of law firm SEO.

In this post, we are going to explore these at a macro level, so you will at least be able to understand what your SEO provider is doing (or not doing) to enhance your online marketing efforts.

What is SEO?

“The best place to hide a dead body is Page 2 of Google search results.” – Unknown

SEO (search engine optimization) refers to the techniques used to help a website achieve better rankings in organic search results. The goal of law firm SEO is to make it more likely that people who are using search engines to look for the legal services you provide will find your website instead of a competitor’s site.

Your goal for law firm SEO is to be on the first page of Google for any search related to your services in your area. Otherwise, you’re dead (digitally speaking — see above quote).

What are organic search results?

Organic search results are those that are nonpaid — i.e., not advertising. It used to be easy to discern organic results from paid results (ads). However, since search engines make their money from advertising, it is not as easy as it once was to tell the difference.

Today, search engine results pages (SERPs) feature both paid ads and organic search results in more dynamic formats such as answer boxes, People Also Ask boxes, image carousels, Local Packs, and more:

In addition to organic search results, SEO can also influence answer boxes, Local Packs, and People Also Ask boxes, which are more prominently displayed on the SERPs.

 

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The importance of Local SEO for law firms

Since attorneys typically draw a majority of their clients from a targeted geographical area, the ability to show up in local search is key to attracting prospects searching the Internet for legal services. Your Google My Business listing is foundational to good local SEO. You can only have one listing, so be sure the listing you claim is yours and there are not any others. To optimize your listing, you need to include a description of your law firm, name, address, phone, business hours, etc.; pick your category; add photos or videos; and include your 5-star reviews. It is VERY important that your NAP (name, address, phone) is EXACTLY the same wherever it appears online. Other factors that influence local SEO include local directory listings, online reviews, local backlinks, and optimizing your website for local search.

How Search Engines Work

This Google video explains in low-tech terms how search engines work: Search engines fulfill three primary functions:
  1. Crawling. As the video above shows, search engines deploy bots called spiders that “crawl” the Internet to find content. They do this by following links. The content is then added to a massive database of web pages called an index, where a user seeking that particular information will retrieve it.
  2. Index. The index is where search engines store all the content they find on the Internet. This includes text, images, videos, PDFs — basically everything found on website pages.
  3. Rank. Search engines are designed — and are constantly changing — to deliver the freshest, most relevant and trustworthy content to a user in response to a specific search. The order in which this content is arranged is known as ranking. The higher a website ranks, the more relevant its content is to a user’s search.

Making sure search engines find your pages

Your website will not show up in search unless it has been crawled and indexed. So how do you know if your pages have been indexed? In a Google search bar, type in “site:yourdomain.com” and Google will return all the results it has in its index for your site

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Keyword Research: The key(words) to success

Understanding user intent is key to finding the right words that will trigger the search engines to serve up your website to people searching for legal services. You must know as much as possible about your target market and how they are searching for your services.

Finding the right keywords begins with questions

Let’s say you are an estate planning attorney. To find the right keywords for your website content, you need to know about your potential clients. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What types of estate planning services are people searching for?
  • Who is searching for estate planning?
  • When are people searching for estate planning? Any seasonality?
  • How are people searching for estate planning? What words are they using? What questions are they asking? Are they searching on mobile devices?
  • Why are people looking for estate planning services? Are they looking for something specific like asset protection?
  • Where are potential clients located?

Assessing user intent

Typically, people conducting an online search will fall into one of the following five categories of intent:

  1. Informational. They need information, such as the top speed for a cheetah mentioned in the video above.
  2. Navigational. They want to find a particular website on the Internet.
  3. Transactional. They want to do something, like book a hotel room.
  4. Commercial. They want to compare products and find the best one for their needs.
  5. Local. They want to find something local, like a doctor, coffee shop or restaurant.

You probably have a good idea of what keywords prospective clients are likely to use already. You can get some good insight into the type of content you need to create by taking those keywords and doing your own search. Google’s SERP will enlighten you about the content that is performing well for those terms.

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Types of keywords

Competition is fierce in the legal category for keywords that have high search volumes. Choosing keywords with a lower search volume can pay off since these are usually more specific and intentional — which can translate into a higher conversion rate for you.

For example, someone who searches for “estate planning” is probably looking for general information. But someone who searches for “estate planning attorney specializing in asset protection near me” is looking to hire. That type of specific search phrase — known as long tail keywords — makes up a majority (70% ) of monthly searches:

Keyword research tools

Finding the right keywords is essential to good law firm SEO. I recommend the following tools for discovering and assessing your choices:

Google Keyword Planner — a good (and free) place to start for your SEO keyword research.

Moz Keyword Explorer — shows monthly search volume and SERP features (featured snippets and local packs) that are ranking for each keyword you input. A difficulty score helps you determine which keywords you have the best chance of ranking for.

AnswerThePublic — type in your keyword and this free tool will spit out all the commonly searched-for questions using search data from Google and Bing.

Optimizing Your Law Firm Website for Search

When developing your law firm SEO strategy, keep in mind that there are two equal parts at play: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO refers to everything you do on your website to make it easier for search engines to find you. Off-page SEO refers to everything you do that is external to your website that improves its reputation and authority.

ON-PAGE SEO

There are a number of elements on your law firm website that you can control to ensure search engines will find and index your content so prospective clients can find you more easily.

Content development

The research you’ve done into your target market and what keywords they are using to search for your legal services will guide the development of your content. To develop the right kind of content that will attract the clients you want, start by answering these four questions:

#1: What is my unique selling proposition (USP)?

How am I different than all the other attorneys in my geographical area who practice the same type of law that I do?

#2: What is my biggest strength?

What is the one thing that I can claim as a strength that will differentiate me in the market? Do I provide a unique service that others do not? Do I offer more choices in how I price my services?

#3: Why do I do what I do?

Did I become a lawyer in order to help people (fill in the blank: navigate a divorce as painlessly as possible? get out of debt? get a second chance? protect their personal wealth?)? What is my “why?”

#4: What kind of client do I serve best?

Do I have a niche practice? What is the profile of my ideal client?

Your answers to these questions should be written down and serve as a guide for your content development. Whatever you write about should align with these answers and feature the relevant keywords for each page.

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Optimizing your website for voice search

If you’ve ever asked a question of Siri, Alexa, Google Home, or any other personal assistant device, you’ve performed a voice search. According to comScore, 40% of adults use voice search every day, and 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.

Optimizing websites for voice search is different than traditional search since voice queries are typically full sentences and questions rather than keywords. In addition, the artificial intelligence driving personal assistant devices is constantly evolving to comprehend the intent of the user and the context of the search, taking into account past searches and location.

Because people speak differently than they write, your content needs to be more conversational in tone in order to optimize your site for voice search. Think about the questions you hear every day from clients and prospects, write them down with the answers and add them to your website. The questions you post should be ones you think your target market will be asking on voice search. Be sure you post each question on its own page. If you have a Live Chat function on our website, search that data for questions that people routinely ask.

Most voice searches are done by people looking for immediate information. Therefore, your site content needs to feature answers to questions people are most likely to ask. Remember to include Q&As for different types of queries that reflect a user’s intent. For example, those who are just doing research may ask something like, “What does a car accident lawyer do?” Those who are closer to hiring an attorney may ask, “How much does a car accident lawyer cost?”

A word about HTML and its role in website optimization

Beyond content, the next thing you need to do to ensure your law firm website is fully optimized for search is deal with HTML. While I realize a vast majority of lawyers are not going to be dealing with code, it is important to understand the basics of HTML and why it’s so important.

Title tags — these are the headlines for each page of content on your website. They indicate to search engines what the page is all about and are designated by an H1 tag. Each page should only carry one H1 tag limited to no more than 70 characters.

Meta description — this is the short description (160 characters) that shows up in search engine results. It should include the content’s keyword and summarize what the page is about. Plug-ins like Yoast SEO for WordPress will easily guide you through the process of creating meta descriptions.

Schema — Schema markup is computer code that enhances the rich snippets displayed under a page title in search engine results. Adding Schema markup to your site’s HTML improves how search engines read and show your page.

Subheadings — from a user’s perspective, subheadings help structure and format your content for easier readability. The HTML designations for subheadings range from H2 to H6.

Image optimization

No one wants to pull up a web page and be hit with a sea of text. Google sees images as content just like text, so you can include and optimize images that help you tell your story.

Every image has a file name, and since Google scans your page code for indexing, the file names on all your images need to be optimized for search. Make sure file names describe the image as clearly as possible.

You should also add alt text to your images, which is a short piece of text describing the image that will appear if the image doesn’t load.

Mobile-friendly

The best practice for law firms when it comes to mobile marketing is to be sure your visitors have a seamless experience, no matter what device they are using. This is because a lot of people use both mobile and desktop devices to conduct research and they want access to the same content across platforms.

Since you shouldn’t spend your time guessing what device every potential client is using to find you, your best bet to cover all the bases is to use responsive website design — meaning your content will be served up correctly whether the user is on a desktop, tablet or smartphone — for all your online properties.

You can check on your site’s mobile-friendliness using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. It will not only tell you if your site is optimized for mobile users, if it’s not, it will give you the fixes that need to be made.

Internal links

Remember that search engine spiders follow links when they are indexing web pages. You can boost your law firm SEO by adding links between your website pages. It’s important that you always use the same keyword to link to another page so search engines recognize the relevance between the pages.

A natural opportunity to add internal links to law firm websites is to list each attorney’s practice areas with a live link to a separate page on your site for that practice area.

Page speed

Most people will abandon a website that does not load within three seconds. Slow load times make people leave, which kills your conversions. It also hurts your law firm SEO as Google uses site speed and page speed as part of their ranking algorithm.

URLs

URLs are important because they tell Google and your site visitors what your site is all about. They should be as descriptive and specific as possible while also being concise and user-friendly. Use your keywords when possible as well as your city.

If you have a WordPress site, you will have to go in and manually create a custom URL structure for your permalinks in your WordPress dashboard.

Security

If your site is not secure — the URL shows “HTTP” instead of “HTTPS” — it will issue a “not secure” warning to visitors using the Chrome browser (which has a hefty 62% market share), and that can be the kiss of death for your site. Google is basically telling visitors not to visit your site, and an unsecure site suffers when it comes to search ranking as well.

OFF-PAGE SEO

Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (EAT)

EAT — which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness — is the metric Google uses to determine high quality websites. But what do these terms actually mean?

Expertise

Expertise is vital for legal websites. You must demonstrate your expertise in your area of practice in your website’s content and by showcasing the skills of your attorneys.

Authoritativeness

Search engines use factors like the quality of backlinks from other sites, online reviews, and the age of your domain to determine authority.

Trustworthiness

A trustworthy website will include an About Us page, comprehensive attorney bios and photos, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy pages, as well as a secure connection (HTTPS).

If your website fulfills the requirements of EAT, it will be rewarded by search engines with a high quality rating — which means better page ranking results.

Backlinks

Backlinks are foundational to Google’s algorithm when it comes to determining a website’s page rank. Obviously, you want to be on the first page when someone searches for your keywords and having quality backlinks tells Google that your website has authority. The better quality and quantity of inbound links your site has, the higher you will rank in search.

Backlinks are known as incoming or inbound links. They are website links that come from another source to your law firm website. The number of backlinks you have on your site will determine its popularity. In a nutshell, backlinks are like votes — they signal to a search engine that you have a website that is worth visiting for specific topics.

One of the quickest ways to obtain quality backlinks is to promote your site on social media. You also need to work on getting links from other sites that have authority for the same topics — for example, by authoring posts or articles for these sites with a link back to your website, which will in turn deliver more visitors to your site.

The use of backlinks for search engine optimization

For ranking and indexing a website, search engines consider the quality of the backlinks. They will determine whether a backlink comes from legal and reliable sources. The following are the key attributes of a good backlink:

Good backlinks come from sources that are reputed and reliable.

If the backlink comes from a source that is trustworthy and reliable, the website becomes popular. The links are viewed positively by both the search engines and visitors when they search for keywords that are relevant to the site.

Links are on a page that contains relevant information to the subject niche.

The backlinks are included on a page that has relevant and vital information on the topic being searched for. Those websites that have links that are not relevant to the topic are viewed as low-quality links and are penalized by search engines. This is done to deter websites that are trying to cheat visitors. These low-quality links are placed around sites that are completely irrelevant. This is called Black Hat SEO. Experts recommend that you check your website and make sure that you are not using any Black Hat SEO techniques as this will result in a lower ranking for your site. Ask a professional to check your website so that you are assured that the SEO tools and techniques you are using are legal.

The link text is a relevant keyword.

The visible link on the screen is called the link text or the anchor text. It is a keyword that is strong and shows both search engine crawlers and site visitors the relevance of the link and what it is all about. Using descriptive and relevant keywords is the key to creating a strong backlink.

Your business website needs to be of good quality.

Check your website and ensure that all the internal and backlinks are working. They should be relevant to the business niche. You must also ensure that the web pages of your site are simple for visitors to navigate. Your site might receive many visitors; however, if they do not find what they want, they will leave.

Good backlinks add value to your site. Your visitors will be able to find you more quickly, which enhances your visibility and authority on the Internet. If you do not know how to create backlinks to your business website, get help from a professional company that focuses on law firm SEO tools and techniques. They can help you create quality backlinks so that your website gets better visibility on search engines.

Online reviews

Online reviews and ratings play an important role in establishing a website’s authority. Posting online reviews on your law firm website and/or linking to review pages on Avvo, Google, Facebook, and other authoritative sites is crucial to law firm SEO.

Unfortunately, many attorneys take a passive approach to obtaining reviews. To get reviews, you need a process! Here are the steps:

Step 1: Claim your law firm listing on review sites.

Get your firm listed on general consumer review sites like Google My Business, Facebook, YellowPages.com, Better Business Bureau, Citysearch, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Foursquare, Manta, InsiderPages and, yes, even Yelp. Also list your firm on legal review sites like Avvo, Justia, Findlaw, Lawyers.com, Nolo, Martindale, LegalMatch, HG.org, SuperLawyers and LawyerCentral.

Step 2: Develop an internal process for obtaining online reviews.

Integrating feedback into your client management process is the best way to ensure you are collecting positive reviews on a consistent basis. You can start this at intake: “Our goal is to provide you with a 5-star client experience, and we hope you will leave us an appropriate review at the conclusion of your legal matter.” Always make it easy for clients to review you. Have a review form on your client portal. Email clients at the appropriate time (when they’re happy!) with links to your profiles on social media and Google Business and request a review.

Step 3: Automate the review process.

Finding the right time to ask for a review can be tricky, since you never know if a client has the time right now to write a review or if they’re busy with other things. Avoid this problem by automating the review process. Set up a series of timed, personalized emails from you, which can be done well ahead of time. Educate clients on why reviews are important to you and ask some leading questions that provide them with ideas on what kind of information would be helpful to other people in their review. Be sure to thank them for their time and consideration in leaving a review for you.

Law firm blog

Blogs are extremely helpful for law firm SEO because they provide fresh content and build authority, both of which are important Google ranking factors.

Every post you create adds one more indexed page to your website, which improves your chances of discovery by prospects. It also tells Google that your site is active and growing, helping to elevate it in search rankings. The fresh content drives more traffic to your site and your social media pages, also increasing your rank. Everything about blogging is good for SEO provided you are adding content your users find relevant and valuable.

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Email marketing

Obviously email doesn’t have a direct connection to Google or other search engines, but there are ways for you to encourage others to improve your website ranking via email marketing:

Build social signal strength.

Links with lots of social activity rank higher in Google search. The more people share your content, the stronger your social signals. Be sure you include social share buttons in all your email marketing efforts to make it easy for your followers and subscribers to share your content. Use blog post links in your newsletters and encourage your recipients to share them.

Decrease bounce rate.

If someone visits your website and then leaves immediately, that is counted as a bounce. It signals to Google that they have not found the relevant information they wanted to find there. Having a low bounce rate helps your Google ranking (you can check your bounce rate in Google Analytics). To reduce your bounce rate, your landing pages and blog posts must have high quality, relevant content in order to engage users. Your email list needs to be full of people who have already demonstrated an interest in your firm, either through signing up for your newsletter or blog, downloading a free report, etc. To keep your list healthy, be sure you include an easily found unsubscribe function in each email.

Archive email newsletters online.

Email newsletters contain a wealth of great, targeted content that you can put to further use by archiving them on your website to improve SEO. Either post the articles as standalone pieces or convert your newsletters to PDF files and host them on your site so Google can index them.

MEASURING YOUR SEO EFFORTS

How can you know if your law firm SEO efforts are delivering the results you want? By tracking SEO key performance indicators (KPIs). Here are the 10 most important SEO KPIs you should be tracking:

#1: Google’s ranking of your keywords.

You want to be sure that the keywords you are using on your website are ranking well on Google. SEMRush is an excellent tool and it’s free to try for 10 searches before you subscribe. All you have to do is enter the domain you want to search and this tool will show you the keywords your site is ranking for on Google. If you are not ranking for your primary keywords, you’ll know there is work to be done.

#2: Click-through rate.

Using the Search Analytics tool in the Google Search Console, you will be able to determine the percentage of people who click on your link from a Google search. This is valuable information because it lets you know if the content snippets people see in their search results are enticing enough to get them to click on your link.

#3: Average session duration.

If people find your content relevant and useful, they are more likely to stay longer. Short sessions indicate that there is a disconnect between the link they clicked on in search results and what they found on your site.

#4: Indexed pages.

You want all the pages of your website to be indexed on Google. If they’re not, they’re invisible as far as Google is concerned. You can use the Google Search Console to check on indexing. If you have missing pages, you may need to submit them manually.

#5. Top exit pages.

The last page someone visits before they leave your site is known as an exit page. You’d like to see the majority of exit pages be those that are post-conversion pages — where someone signs up for a free consultation, a newsletter or other lead generation offer. If you have most people leaving on other pages, this is a sign you need to see if there are problems with your site or its content that is causing people to leave prematurely.

#6: Organic traffic.

Organic traffic is visits to your site that come from a non-paid search result. You want to examine this metric by location and landing page to determine what is resonating with visitors.

#7: Organic bounce rate.

A bounce is when someone leaves your site after viewing just a single page. It’s the equivalent of, “Oops, wrong place!” Ideally, your bounce rate would be low, which would tell you that people are satisfied with what they found on your site. If it is high, that means they are not interested in your content because it doesn’t deliver what they want based on the keywords they used to find you.

#8: Organic conversion rate.

This is where the rubber meets the road — are people taking you up on your offers? Examine how and where conversions occur — by location, landing page, user device, and browser — so you can leverage what is working and fix what is not working.

#9: Page load time.

Google does not like pages that are slow to load because that leads to a poor user experience. Plus, when pages are slow to load, users are less likely to keep exploring your site.

#10: Crawl errors.

Site and URL errors can cause Google to be unable to crawl your site, which results in no search results being served up for your website on Google. Use Google Search Console to check for crawl errors and fix them immediately.

CONCLUSION

SEO is complicated. First, because Google’s algorithm is ever-changing (as in every day ever-changing), so it is virtually impossible to practice law and stay on top of everything your online properties need to get or keep you on the first page of Google’s search results. Hopefully having some rudimentary knowledge of SEO helps you to decipher the reports you should be getting from your digital marketing team. You want to be continually making progress and seeing the desired results from your law firm SEO efforts.

One Response

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